Today marks the beginning of our month-long #CoffeeMonth campaign. We’re kicking it off with an interview with Adrian Jones, whose 17-year career in the London coffee scene has seen him open 7 coffee shops at various points, including Jonestown in Bethnal Green and Fuckoffee in Bermondsey. We sat with him and talked about industry changes, café interiors and that time Gordon Ramsay tried to buy his business.
Hi Adrian. Let’s begin by getting to know you first. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, I started in coffee about 1997, when in East London there were only 2 speciality coffee shops. Now there are probably…300, something like that. The one I started at was the 2nd one in East London, which was The Bean on Curtain Road. I used to work in pubs before then, but I realised that coffee is just a nicer industry. You don’t finish at midnight; you finish at around 8pm. So I worked for a company, and then I got my own shop in 1999, which Forster Inc designed for me. And then it all went mad from there.
How has the coffee shop scene changed since you started out?
Growth. There are millions of them now. It’s harder to find sites now, and so you have to be out on a limb a bit. We sold Brick Lane because the rent went so mad. But you have to roll with it. [Jones closed his coffee shop Brick Lane Coffee last year].
You’ve chosen to open all of your coffee businesses in distinct London neighbourhoods. When choosing a location, what factors do you look for?
When picking a site, [I look for] south facing [premises], so you get sun all day. A corner position. Slightly off track, so it’s cheaper. Not on a busy high street. I don’t like paying big rent.
In a world of chains, you’ve managed to remain independent. What kept you independent?
Oh yeah, it’s got to be independent. I’ll never sell out. What’s the point? Never ever. I’ll always remain independent. I wouldn’t sell to Starbucks. It’s a drive to stay local. The chains are killing the whole high street. Proper killing it.
Let’s talk about your coffee shop interiors. What is your inspiration?
We throw lots of stuff in, just anything we can pick up, like a bric-a-brac market. [When setting up] I had no money, and so I just found loads of cheap furniture and threw it all in.
Forster Inc chose all the colours and lights, and I threw all the furniture in. The look across all my shops is a ‘loungey’ feel, like someone’s home.
What do you think is the most important part of a coffee shop interior?
What you want is furniture that people recognise from the past, from when they were kids. So we use ercol, chesterfields, rocking loungers etc. It’s what everyone had in the UK as kids. It gives a warm feeling.
What a coffee shop should be is a person’s ‘third place.’ The first place is your home, the second place is your work and the third place is your coffee shop. So it should be homely.
Let’s talk about the crux of the shops: coffee. How do you choose your coffee roast? Do customers take notice of the types of roast you use?
We buy our coffee directly from Papua New Guinea, and then we get it roasted by someone. But we’re about to start roasting ourselves, next year, probably out in Hackney Wick. It’s near and local.
Yeah, customers really care about the quality of the coffee. When all the New Zealanders and Australians came over in 2008, everyone had to up their game, including us.
What’s the most commonly ordered drink? What’s been the biggest change in coffee orders since you started out?
Flat whites. Our biggest selling milk is almond milk, more than soya. They’re now really popular and definitely a change from when we started out.
We'll end this interview with some quick-fire favourites. What is your favourite…
Double macchiato with cold skinny milk. So I can bang it back straight away.
Type of pastry?
Chocolate almond croissant. It’s vicious.
Song to karaoke to?
Fool’s Gold. I’d be no good at it, though.
Film to watch on a rainy night?
Country you’ve visited?
It’s Turkey. I’ve been all over the world, I’ve been to India and everywhere else, but I just like Turkey for some reason.
Fun fact about yourself?
Gordon Ramsay tried to buy my business. We were supposed to be partners, but we didn’t get on. Bit annoying, but yeah.
Life lesson you’ve learned?
Going bankrupt in 2008. [It taught me] don’t over expand without any money.
Visit Jonestown at 215 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 6AB